November 26, 2006
Targeting Those Surplus Audiences: Teenage Girls and Graphic Novels

There was an interesting article from George Gene Gustines in yesterday's New York Times about traditional American comics companies trying to reach out to female readers. Especially since manga has opened the door for substantial new female audiences, the long-held presupposition that comic books is the domain of men is being questioned.

We've already crossed the boundary that was placed between comic books and adults, as it's been a longheld myth that comic books--and animation--is strictly children's fare. But it's been a longer road for female readers. The problem is that, even if it is an obvious falsity that women are not interested in a medium like comic books, the majority of content over the years has not written for female audiences in any way, forcing them to be a surplus audience that is not part of the target demographic.

I've written about this many times. It's the female and gay fans of pro wrestling, the male and older soap opera viewers, etc. And, at times, shows have been able to build powerful cult followings by finding more ways to play to their multiple audiences instead of solely one target demographic.

And that's what this article was about--how mainstream comic books (from the super hero companies like Marvel and DC) can correct on their prior errors and start targeting these female viewers that they've just started to realize are interested in more than Archie.

It reminds me of the plight of video gamer girls. The problem is not interest but a lack of products that successfully market to this surplus audience.

DC Comics is hoping to correct this, according to the article, by targeting teenage girls in particular. According to the article, in May 2007, DC plans to introduce a line of graphic novels which will target young adult female readers. The new DC division will be called Minx, and it will have six titles that will be less than 10 bucks apiece.

However, the attempt is not to try to further develop stronger entries for readership for females in their super hero books but rather to create a completely new line of books. Gustines writes, "The stories will be far removed from the superheroes who more typically appeal to young males. They include 'Clubbing,' about a London party girl who solves a mystery; 'Re-Gifters,' about a Korean-American teenager in California who enjoys martial arts; and 'Good as Lily,' about a young woman who meets three versions of herself at different ages."

I'm interested in seeing where this goes and what this means for DC Comics. If this experience works out well, will there be more comics aimed at teenage girls readers, and how will this co-exist with the greater DC Universe...or should it?

Gustines writes about the link to manga that, "as a whole, the line is positioned as an alternative for teenage girls who have, especially in bookstores, become increasing smitten with the Japanese comics known as manga. In 2004, DC started CMX, a manga imprint, to capture part of that audience. The marketing then was similar to that used for DC's other titles."

With Minx, though, DC has taken what, for it, is the unusual step of seeking outside help. It has joined with Alloy Marketing + Media to promote Minx. All told, DC, a unit of Time Warner, will spend $125,000 next year to push the line.

"In terms of consumer marketing, it's got to be the largest thing we've done in at least three decades," said Paul Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics. "It's not large by the scale of consumer marketing and advertising as it's done in America, but it's a large-scale commitment, I think, for a publishing company in general."

Alloy Entertainment, a division of the marketing company, has helped to make hits of books like "Gossip Girls" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Alloy was also the so-called book packager behind "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," a first novel by a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore named Kaavya Viswanathan that was pulled from stores earlier this year when it was learned that numerous passages had been copied from novels by other writers.

Some of my colleagues are much more knowledgable on the history of manga, and comic books for that matter, but I thought the DC "separate but equal approach" would be interesting to keep an eye on.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for bringing this article to my attention.